Why the Church Should Leave Adam and Steve Alone

Jeremy Sig
811a1After much procrastination, I have decided to throw in my two cents in regards to homosexuality and the church. This post will be surprisingly short in comparison to the others on this topic. I feel for the most part that this topic has been covered adequately.

I do find one point that I feel needs further clarification. As Reed pointed out in his last post on the issue, the question that must be asked is not what does the Bible say about homosexuality, but rather should we be going to the Bible for this answer? Much to the chagrin of my fundamentalist friends, I believe that the answer to this question is simply no. The Bible simply does not lay out a sexual ethic for which mankind is to follow. Sure there are many proof texts that can be pointed to by both sides. However, in the end all of the texts are nothing more than a list of sexual mores, many of which the church does not still hold to.

The church has gotten into the bad habit of picking which scriptural codes of conduct align themselves with the current worldview and then screaming that the Bible has commanded that we follow these rules. The reality is that long ago the church jettisoned the Biblical condoning of polygamy and endogamy. They we excused as no longer culturally relevant. Similarly the church has excused itself from Biblical mandates on slavery.

Is homosexuality inherently dangerous or simply uncomfortable?

This question can’t be answered with proof texts and hellfire sermons. It must be filtered through our experiences and reason.  If the church truly wants to make headway on the homosexual issue it must come up with experience backed reasons for its conclusions. Simply yelling at the top of our lungs that the Bible says so simply will not do. If we as Christians really want to live out a Biblically mandated ethic, then I suggest we begin with one that is actually there. As Dan pointed out, the Bible may not provide a sexual ethic, but it does provide an ethic of love. The issue that the church must wrestle with today is how it can live out the Biblical mandate to love all, while still ostracizing the homosexual community. I suggest that it cannot.

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19 Comments

  1. OK, here’s my math problems for Jeremy’s post.

    Straight + Love = OK
    Gay + Love = Undecided
    Jeremy + Brevity = WTF?

    This is easily the least you’ve had to say on any topic I’ve ever heard go on about. Yet, I think you’re really on to something. In so few words you’ve hit the nail on the head about how we (yep, all of us) pick and choose what to make of the Bible when it suits us. We can prove anything is sin or anything is right if you cite the right combo of proof texts, but that really isn’t the point.

    Can it be that I not only agree with you completely, but that you’ve convinced me with so few words?

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  2. I agree this issue is not about a christian hermeneutic, if it were this issue would not be treated as such a stigma in the church world. I would disagree on the non-necessity validation from the scriptures bring. Experience and reason mean a great deal to us today but our history is was keeps us accountable. Again, this must be assessed along with the changing opinions of the times.

    I would absolutely agree a ‘sexual ethic’ has not been thoroughly portrayed in the scriptures, love “is” the christian ethic.

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  3. I disagree with this post for several reasons:

    First, the Bible does have a sexual ethic. Or, rather, Jesus does. Matthew 19:3-12 makes several inter-related points: (a) God created humanity male and female (verse 4). (b) Marriage is a lifelong union between one man and one woman in which they become “one flesh” (verse 5). (c) Divorce is thus against God’s will (verse 6). (d) The law allowed for divorce because of the hardness of man’s heart (verses 7-9). By the way, notice that Jesus reiterates the normativity of what was “at/from the beginning.” (e) Celibacy is the acceptable alternative to marriage within the kingdom of God (verses 10-12). This is not, of course, the only biblical text on marriage, but it seems to be a self-consciously normative utterance from Jesus.

    Second, the church did not dispense with polygamy and endogamy because they were “no longer culturally relevant.” There does not seem to be any phase in church history where polygamy was widely practiced precisely because the Jews had already dispensed with the practice well before Jesus’ time. Why? Through sustained reflection on Genesis 1, I imagine. Why does the church reject endogamy? Notice, first, that endogamy per se was not a hard and fast rule even in the Old Testament. Ruth is the paradigmatic case of exogamy, here. The issue in exogamous marriages, for Israelites, was not ethnic, but religious. Israelites were not to marry Canaanite women lest they worshipped Canaanite gods. The twelve tribes themselves were a mix of ethnic groups on their mothers’ sides, and intermarriage had always been practiced, as long as religious scruples were met. Ruth, as the paradigmatic example again, converted first. In that sense, the church did not reject the religious motivation behind endogamy. Marriage outside the faith is still prohibited as a rule. Also, whereas most Israelites were ethnic kin, most Christians are not because of the Gentile mission. So, I would say that the reasons the church rejected endogamy were theological rather than cultural.

    As far as reason and experience go, we might ask a variation on MacIntyre’s question: Whose reason? Whose experience? I don’t think the extension of equal protection to same-sex couples is reasonable precisely because I don’t think they’re an intended class for what marriage law is supposed to protect. From an empirical point of view, we know the long-term good of raising children in a two-parent, heterosexual home. We don’t have enough empirical data to know whether those same goods could be achieved in two-parent same-sex homes. Those are two of a number of rational/experiential arguments that have to be considered.

    Oddly, I read a lot of literature in this debate, and while theologians wrangle over biblical texts, Christian lawyers, sociologists, and politicians are making precisely the kind of non-biblical, rational arguments that you call for. I don’t know of anyone who argues against same-sex marriage solely on the basis of what the Bible does or does not say.

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  4. This is a great post Jeremy, and I think it brings to the real crux of this debate. My comment is a qualification of both posts above.

    On the Bible’s Sexual Ethic
    The Bible does indeed provide us with a sexual ethic… quite a few actually! But they’re all pretty old and written for cultures very different from our own. This does not mean they have no relevance today, nor that we should dispatch with the role Scripture plays in guiding us as we make our moral decisions. Genesis provided both Judaism and Early Christianity with a foundational narrative with which to base their larger ethic of marriage (and thus sex within marriage). The New Testament shows early communities wrestling with this text along with the Levitical purity laws trying to find a workable sexual ethic for their society, that would still reflect the will of God. (For example, one can find subtle contextualization regarding teaching on divorce in Mk 10:2-12, Mt. 5:31-32, 19:3-12, Lk. 16:18, and I Cor. 7:10-16). What do these teachings have in common and in what ways do they differ? Which teaching should trounce the others? I would argue that these authors use Genesis as an ideal, and from there work out the ethical exceptions to the rule according to their cultural context.

    On Polygamy and Endogamy
    First, the Church has NOT dispensed with polygamy. For example, there are many families in Africa who are very faithful Christians but still practice polygamy. This is not so much an issue of male lust as it is an issue of economics. In a culture where a woman is not allowed to go to school or hold a job, the unexpected death of a husband can be a death sentence to a widow and her children. Is it not Christian for these men to help the widows in their community? Do these same principles work in North America where women are not at as much of an economic disadvantage? Hardly.

    Second, Endogamy is both a religious and ethnic issue because in ancient cultures there was hardly a distinction between the two.

    Experience and Reason
    Unfortunately, I think much of today’s “experience and reason” suffers from basking in a sexually charged culture. As I alluded to but didn’t discuss much in my posts on the New Testament and Homosexuality, we live in a culture today that portrays the celibate life as the ultimate prison. In most of Christian tradition (this includes the Scriptures) sex is a wonderful part of human love, marriage, and purpose as part of Christian Identity. Today, sex has been inflated into the very identity itself, capturing an inordinate amount of attention.

    In such a culture, it’s no wonder Christians struggle with God’s portrayed ideal in Genesis—we hardly ever see it!

    On Gay Marriage
    This is Tony’s specialty. He’s made a great case for the orthodox Christian allowing for gay marriage elsewhere.

    On Adam and Steve
    “Should the Church leave Adam and Steve alone?”
    Maybe.

    Tony has already written some brilliant posts on how a modern, loving church should act towards homosexual Christians, but I’ll do my best here. Before I bothered Adam and Steve I’d probably ask myself a few questions: First, are Adam and Steve Christians, and thus likely to care what my worldview has to say about their lifestyle? Do I have a relationship with them where there is an understood trust and they would feel comfortable with me speaking into their lives? Do I have the best interest of Adam and Steve in mind or do I just feel like condemning somebody today?

    If I feel at peace with my answers to these questions and sense the leading of the Spirit, I would discuss with Adam and Steve what I believe to be the Christian ideal for human sexuality. Without trying to make the Scriptures say more than they can about the 21st century invention of sexual identity, we’d discuss together how God’s ideal picture plays out in our culture.

    PS Jeremy, you always find the best pictures!

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  5. George, I think that you betray your own point when it comes the sexual ethic of the Bible. The very mentioning of celibacy in Jesus message to the pharisees shows the cultural relativity of the position he is taking. Celibacy is not only not an OT ethic it is against many of the mores laid down in the OT about reproduction.

    Reed, your use of Genesis to point out the universality of an ethic is partially correct. However, the universality of Genesis is about God not about man. The Genesis narrative is meant to share a timeless truth about the character of God (which happens to be love) not a timeless truth about man. Secondly, your statement that some of the sexual ethics in the Bible are “pretty old and written for cultures very different from our own” proves that they are indeed sexual mores and not sexual ethics that you are referring to.
    I dont want to get into polygamy and endogamy, as they were simply examples and any argument would only distract from the larger point.

    George, I welcome any reasoned argument for or against homosexuality that is not based on the misnomer that “The Bible says so”. My post simply relayed the positon I have come to. Please feel free to share any of these arguments for which you have eluded to.They can only add to the conversation.

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  6. Jeremy:

    I’m not really sure how I’ve betrayed my own point by bringing celibacy into the discussion. Does celibacy invalidate the normative creation narrative? Jesus didn’t think so. I’m not sure why you do.

    Let me for the moment make a somewhat arbitrary distinction between spiritual modes of argument and secular modes of argument. Let me further somewhat arbitrarily group Scripture and tradition under the spiritual mode and reason and experience under the secular mode.

    If I understand you correctly, you’re arguing that Christians should use secular modes of reasoning when arguing about same-sex marriage in the public square. I agree with that to a point. Obviously, if a person does not receive the Bible as an authoritative text, it makes little sense to cite it to him as if it were one. But if a large portion of the American public receives the Bible as an authoritative text, and if they believe it speaks to a public issue, what’s wrong with making biblical arguments in the public square? I’m pragmatic on this one: Use the tool that works. Caveat: My pragmatism is limited by principle. Lies and dirty campaigning work, but I think they’re out of bounds for Christians. So when I say, use the tool that works, keep in mind that I mean biblically sound arguments, correct exposition of tradition, sound and valid arguments, and authentic experience.

    As for the types of reason and experience arguments I might use, I’d point out that homosexuality is not an adaptive behavior from an evolutionary point of view. I’d point out that homosexual acts (at least male homosexual acts) can be physically harmful, citing any number of epidemiological studies. I’d point out that male homosexuality correlates very strongly with high rates of depression and other psychological maladies. I’d point out that most advocates and practitioners of male same-sex marriage do not include exclusivity as part of their definition of marriage. I’d point out that redefining marriage away from the one-man-one-woman-for life standard opens the doors to polymorphous “marital” arrangements, which is the avowed intention of some advocates of same-sex marriage. I’d point out that there are strong biological reasons for a child having a mother and a father that extend beyond the initial act of procreation. I’d point out that the legal arguments for extending equal protection to same-sex couples are weak. If you’re interested, I’ll recommend a few books by prominent public intellectuals, some of them religious, others not, who argue both for tolerance of homosexuals and against acceptance of same-sex marriage.

    George

    P.S. One further point. You wrote: “The issue that the church must wrestle with today is how it can live out the Biblical mandate to love all, while still ostracizing the homosexual community. I suggest that it cannot.” I think you’re right that you cannot love and ostracize at the same time. But I think you’re confusing ostracizing the person with a moral evaluation of the person’s actions. I have a friend whose a stumble-down drunk. I don’t ostracize him. I don’t look down on him. I don’t avoid his company or walk to the other side of the street when I see him. I hug him when he comes to church. I also point out that he’s a stumble-down drunk who’s sinning against God, his wife, and his toddler son by his willful refusal to go to and stay at rehab, by his determined decision not to seek sobriety. Interestingly, I point these things out to him precisely because I love him. Why can’t the same thing be done with our gay and lesbian friends and church members?

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  7. George let me be brief in my response. The point I was making was that the creation narrative was not originally intended to speak of a sexual ethic. Yes, Jesus refers back to it in this way, but this is through a cultural lense much differant than that of the author. In this case I don’t believe that the argument that “Jesus said it” makes it a universal ethic as opposed to a cultural more. This leads to your second point which is that the Bible can be used as authoratative because large portions of society see it as such. I agree that the Bible can inform many debates, but in this situation the relativity of the position to culture and context nullify its authority to the issue.
    In my opinion your pragmatic approach is incorrect. This debate must be determined by reason and collective experience. Now I am willing to accept that your experiances and reason have led you to a differant conclusion than myself. That said, using the Bible to back your position as a divine mandate only serves to ratchet up the rhetoric. This is not a theological debate.
    As far as your examples, you provided too many in rapid fire for me to address them all in this response. I think that you have made some very broad over generalizations, such as a lack of commitment to exclusivity within the homosexual community. Also your correlation of depression and psychological maladies to homosexuality are at best debatable. Many leading psychologist would adamently disagree with your assumption. Also your harkening to the advocacy of polymorphous marital arrangements is quite devious. I am sure that there are some extreme factions within the homosexual movement that would argue for this, but this is far from the majority position, and quite frankly off of the topic at hand.
    In regards to your final point, I am not sure where I stand. I have heard for years that as a Christian I must “love the sinner, but hate the sin”. While this has always sounded good, it has always proven to be quite impractical when it comes to relationships. Too often I have found myself trying to “love” a sinner who has refused to accept my love because of my judgment of their lives. What good is my love if they cannot receive it? I understand your point, and admit that it is logically appealing. I just have wrestled with the practicality of this position for many years, and I am not sure where I stand.
    Let me end my response by adding that I appreciate your perspective in this debate. I would love to read any material that you would like to recommend on this topic, as I believe that it is of utmost importance in society today. While I can sympathize with your position, I cannot in good conscience ascribe to it myself. Apparently my attempts at brevity were in vain.

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  8. Jeremy:

    First, let me say thank you to you Theophiliacs for letting me horn in on your debates. You generally make my brain hurt, but I guess no pain, no gain, right?

    Second, I honestly have no idea how you can conclude that “the creation narrative was not originally intended to speak of a sexual ethic.” Genesis 1:27-28 is overtly sexual, and so quite frankly is Genesis 2:23-24. How else, after all, should we interpret “united to his wife” and “one flesh” if not in terms of sexuality? But perhaps you intend something by “sexual ethic” that I’m simply not getting. Granted, neither creation narrative presents a full-blown sexual ethic, but I doubt that’s necessary. Each, instead, lays a foundational stone in the development of a biblical sexual ethic. Other things must be added to their insights, but nothing can be added without their insights.

    Third, when you write, “Yes, Jesus refers back to it in this way, but this is through a cultural lens much differant than that of the author,” you raise a whole host of Christological issues worth pursuing. Insofar as Jesus is God Incarnate, aren’t his interpretations of Scripture authoritative? Indeed, since both Scripture and Jesus are described as the Word of God, thus inextricably linking revelation and redemption, shouldn’t we rather conclude that the Genesis author’s words are in fact Jesus’ words?

    Fourth, when you write, “In this case I don’t believe that the argument that ‘Jesus said it’ makes it a universal ethic as opposed to a cultural more.” Could you expand a bit this belief? Does it apply only to Jesus’ teaching on sexual ethics, or is it broadly applicable to his other ethical teachings? And again, a Christological issue: If God Incarnate saying it doesn’t make it universally applicable, what precisely does?

    Fifth, you write, “I agree that the Bible can inform many debates, but in this situation the relativity of the position to culture and context nullify its authority to the issue.” I assume you’re saying that the creation narratives’ implicit sexual ethic is relative to its culture and context. I disagree with you for a number of reasons: (a) I think it is a misreading of the text, (b) there is a deep congruence between biology and Genesis 1-2 when it comes to the complementarity of human sexuality, and (3) from a Christological point of view, Jesus’ words interpretation of the creation narrative is normative. Consequently, since one-flesh complementarity is normative, same-sex union is ethically proscribed.

    Sixth, what are the non-arbitrary means by which we distinguish when the Bible is relevant to an ethical question and when it is not? That seems to be an underlying problem between our two positions, and I’m interested in your take. Me? I buy this distinction: Moral laws are universally normative, ceremonial laws were types and shadows of Christ’s redemptive work, and civil laws are binding on the covenant nation only, except insofar as laws of general equity require. The three uses of the moral law, then, are to define God’s holiness, to expose our sin and consequent need for a Savior, and to rightly guide us in the path of sanctification.

    Seventh, you wrote, “In my opinion your pragmatic approach is incorrect. This debate must be determined by reason and collective experience. Now I am willing to accept that your experiances and reason have led you to a differant conclusion than myself. That said, using the Bible to back your position as a divine mandate only serves to ratchet up the rhetoric. This is not a theological debate.” The point of my pragmatism is that if the public considers the Bible a reasonable source of authority, then we violate no canons of public reason by citing it. If the public doesn’t, however, we gain no ground by citing it. It all depends, then, on whether the public does or does not consider the Bible a reasonable source of authority. You say that citing the Bible “serves to ratchet up the rhetoric.” So, obviously you’re not going to cite any religious arguments in favor of same-sex marriage, right? I mean, what would be the point of deconstructing traditional biblical interpretations of anti-homosexual passages since that only serves to ratchet up the rhetoric? And anyway, does citing the Bible ratchet up the rhetoric any more than, say, citing the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution as an argument for same-sex marriage, or claiming it is a civil right and a human right? If ratcheted-up rhetoric is a reason for not citing a public authority in favor of your position, then no authority of any kind can be cited because all authorities can be subjected to ratcheted-up rhetoric.

    Eight, I’d recommend Thomas Schmidt’s Straight and Narrow, which is an interdisciplinary evaluation of homosexuality from a Christian point of view. Schmidt’s catalog of the physical and psychological maladies afflicting gay men particularly is a good introduction to the subject. You might also want to check out Stanton Evans, et al, Homosexuality: The Use of Scientific Evidence in the Church’s Moral Debate. Regarding non-biblical arguments against same-sex marriage, I’m currently reading David Blankenhorn’s The Future of Marriage. Blankenhorn is famous for his book Fatherless America, and while sympathetic to the same-sex marriage cause, doesn’t think the cause is good for marriage generally. He employs social-science evidence to reach these conclusions. I’d also check out The Meaning of Marriage, edited by Robert P. George and Jean Bethke Elshtain. They employ a variety or arguments, social scientific, legal, philosophical, historical to make a case for traditional marriage and in critique of same-sex marriage. The authors are Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and secular intellectuals teaching at well-regarded research universities. George is at Princeton, Elshtain at the University of Chicago.

    Ninth, my harkening to polymorphous perversity is not devious. It simply follows the logic of arguments for same-sex marriage. If a person should be allowed to marry whomever he or she desires, regardless of sex, then a person should be allowed to marry whomever he or she desires, regardless of number. For just as a man can have romantic affection for another man, he can just as surely have romantic affection for two women, or a man and a woman, or two men. Having extracted marriage from its roots in the biological complementarity of male and female, there is simply no non-arbitrary reason for restricting the number of people who can be included within a marital union, excepting consent, which is all that is evidently required for same-sex marriage. You think pointing this out is off-topic; I think it’s simply the obvious conclusion to where the argument for same-sex marriage inevitably leads.

    Tenth (and thank God!) finally, as C.S. Lewis once put it, we love the sinner and hate the sin everyday when we look in the mirror. If we can do this to ourselves, we can surely do it to others. I have a friend who’s a drunk; surely I can accept him without accepting the alcoholism that is rending his family! And surely I can love my brother-in-law, who prior to his conversion, committed adultery against my sister, without accepting his adultery as morally acceptable. Why, then, can we not do this with our gay friends and fellow church members?

    George

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  9. George thank you for your response. Your formating is much more succinct than my own. Thus, I will barrow from it for my response.

    First you make a good case for your interpretation of the Genesis narrative. It is probably unfair of me to write a post as I have without relaying my personal view on the text. I am of the view that the Genesis account is first and foremost a political response to a pagan creation narrative. As such it serves not as an ethic for human behavior, but rather a revelation of the Jewish view of God’s character. Certainly, the narrative was influenced by the “ethics” of its early Hebrew writers. That said, it does not seem to me to be the point of the text to lay out any universal ethic for the actions of man.

    Secondly, you astutely observe a fundamental differance in our Christological perspective. To sum up my response to 3 4 and 5, I don’t view the Bible as inherant or infallable. I don’t see the words of Jesus as being from the lips of God. I see the Bible, its authors, and its characters as uniquely teathered to the cultural worldview of the day. As such I am incredibly interested in understanding what the Bible has to say on any issue. However, I always put personal and communal experience as well as reason ahead of Biblical authority. I realize this may disqualify me from the debate in your eyes. Never the less I feel it unfair of me to continue this discussion with you without providing some context for my responses.

    In regards to your sixth question, I would have to say that the rule or ethic would have to prove itself to be universally true despite the context of location and time.I agree with your position on the normativity of a moral law. The distinction I would make is that I see both ceremonial and civil laws as solely relative to culture. Concurrently, I would limit the role of moral law to guiding us in the path of sanctification.

    To your seventh point, I agree with your assesment save one small caveat. My argument was not that one of the outcomes of appealing to the Bible is ratcheted rhetoric. My point was that, from my perspective, that is the only outcome. I understand and agree with your position that ratcheted rhetoric should not disqualify a source of authority from a discussion. My point was simply that the Bible already disqualifies itself from that position and thus the only use it has is to ratchet up the rhetoric.

    Eighth, thank you for the recommendations. I will try to get a hold of those works as I have not read any of them. I am specifically intrigued by Blakenhorn’s work.

    Ninth, the reason that I referred to your polymorphous comment as devious was because of the context that you used it. You were arguing that some within the homosexual activist community had this as part of their agenda. While this may be true, I hold to the fact that this is not predominate among the agendas of most in the homosexual community. You may be able to argue that this is a natural outcome of these laws. However, to ascribe this as a goal of the community seems false. You specifically state that
    “most male homosexuals do not include exclusivity in their definition of marriage”
    and again
    “opens the doors to polymorphous arrangements, which is the avowed intention of some advocates of same-sex marriage” these are the statements for which I was taking issue.
    Tenth, I appreciate Lewis’ perspective. That said, my reservation is with the acceptance of that love. Many look in the mirror and cannot accept the person they see. They may “love themeselves” but they cannot accept that “love” and thus the love serves as nothing more than selfish ambition. My issue is not with my ability to love while judging sin, but with the ability of others to accept that love while I am judging their sin. I understand the ideology of the position, but I am a pragmatist and thus the most important aspect of this to me is the relationship itself. If my judging hinders the ability for that relationship to grow, then I would rather leave the judging to God.

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  10. Jeremy:

    In re: my “devious” reference to polymorphous perversity. Perhaps I overgeneralized when I used “most” rather than “many.” I had three pieces of information in mind when I made that statement: (1) Andrew Sullivan’s well-known statements on gay marriage, which rather pointedly say that exclusive fidelity is not part of the bargain; (2) a review of writings by gay marriage advocates, which also said that exclusive fidelity in mind; and (3) an gay acquaintance who is “married” and who does not think exclusive fidelity is part of the bargain.

    I’ll get back to the remainder of the discussion later, unless the “sex is boring” thread sucks up all my energy. LOL.

    George

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  11. Here are some interesting links regarding my “devious” comments:

    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/06/25/EDNR11F0AU.DTL in which a gay man reflects on the problematic relationship of gay-marriage advocates to monogamy traditionally defined.

    http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/002/938xpsxy.asp in which Stanley Kurtz surveys the promotion of polyamory by family law specialists.

    http://www.gaypatriot.net/2008/06/20/gay-groups-ignore-monogamy-when-discussing-marriage/ in which Gay Patriot notices that gay marriage advocates need to speak up more forcefully about monogamy.

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  12. Jeremy:

    GENESIS CREATION NARRATIVES

    You wrote: ” I am of the view that the Genesis account is first and foremost a political response to a pagan creation narrative. As such it serves not as an ethic for human behavior, but rather a revelation of the Jewish view of God’s character. Certainly, the narrative was influenced by the “ethics” of its early Hebrew writers. That said, it does not seem to me to be the point of the text to lay out any universal ethic for the actions of man.”

    I partially agree. Genesis 1 is a theological response to a pagan creation narrative. Indeed, in some senses, it deconstructs those narratives by placing chaos directly under the control of God rather than opposition to him, which is common in pagan creation myths. But political? I don’t see that. You’ll have to explain.

    Genesis 2 is more clearly focused on the creation of the human race. What it says about human beings seems directly relevant to the construction of a sexual ethic. (a) Human beings form a society that is distinct from the animals. That is part of the point of the author saying, “no suitable helper for him was found.” (b) Human society is sexually complementary, i.e., male and female. (c) Interestingly, Genesis 2 does not emphasize the procreative intent of this biological complementarity but rather its unitive effect. I think this is wise; procreation is an obvious purpose of sexual intercourse. But it is not necessarily the most basic. The most basic is the unitive. Notice that Jesus and Paul cite this passage rather than Genesis 1:28-29 when they are discussing marriage, divorce, and prostitution. In light of these three points, I simply don’t see how you conclude that this passage is irrelevant to the construction of a universal sexualethic. What could be more universal than the social nature of humanity, its basic sexual complementarity, and the unitive and procreative ends of the sex act itself? If those are not fundamentals in the construction of a sexual ethic, what is?

    THE AUTHORITY OF CHRIST

    “To sum up my response to 3 4 and 5, I don’t view the Bible as inherant or infallable. I don’t see the words of Jesus as being from the lips of God. I see the Bible, its authors, and its characters as uniquely teathered to the cultural worldview of the day.”

    This is a rather fundamental issue of disagreement, isn’t it? Since I don’t know you personally, I’m going to ask a question about your personal faith stance: Do you consider yourself a Christian? The reason I say this is because it would be hard to be a Christian in the Great Tradition (Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant being streams of that tradition) and deny the inspiration and authority of the Bible, let alone the divinity and therefore authority of Jesus’ own words. If Christ is God Incarnate, then his words are de fact authoritative and relevant. If not, then the Bible is just another book, however sublime its writings. Again, I don’t mean to offend by this question about your personal faith stance. I’m asking it to clarify how we proceed with the debate.

    THE BIBLE AND RATCHED-UP RHETORIC

    You wrote, “My argument was not that one of the outcomes of appealing to the Bible is ratcheted rhetoric. My point was that, from my perspective, that is the only outcome.”

    I disagree. I think the Bible can both unite and divide, both bring peace and bring division. For example, when Christians on both sides of an issue find their partisan tempers flaring, does a reminder from James that “man’s anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness” ratchet the rhetoric up or down? Furthermore, do appeals to love one’s enemies and one’s neighbors ratchet rhetoric up or down? Can people’s use of the Bible ratchet up rhetoric? Yes. Does it do so necessarily? No. As an interesting counterexample, I propose Martin Luther King Jr.’s use of the Bible in his various Civil Rights speeches, which shamed Southern, white, “Christian” culture into seeing how far from the New Testament ideals their actual behaviors were. Take away that biblical rhetoric, and where would the Civil Rights Movement be?

    LOVING THE SINNER

    You wrote, “I am a pragmatist and thus the most important aspect of this to me is the relationship itself. If my judging hinders the ability for that relationship to grow, then I would rather leave the judging to God.”

    Okay, so when my brother-in-law cheated on my sister, which relationship was more important? I could not love my sister without judging my brother-in-law’s adultery, because one was the victim and the other the victimizer. By the same token, I could not honestly love my brother-in-law and seek his well-being and the well-being of his marriage and little son without pointing out to him the error of his ways. Your definition of “love” is too hazy for my taste. Far better Paul’s reminder: “Love does no harm to its neighbor, therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” Love and law are complementary, not contradictory.

    George

    Reply

  13. George,
    The reason that I see the Genesis narrative as political is due to the interconnection of politic and theology in ancient times. I do not see the Genesis account as simply a theological clarification for the people of Israel, though some have argued this. Rather, I see it as specifically targeted at their “pagan” enemies. In other words the narrative was not meant to relay “What we believe” but rather why “What they believe is wrong”. This forceful position to me shows the political motive behind the narrative. Again, from my understanding of the ancient world, politics and theology were intertwined.

    In regards to Genesis 2 you make a good point. Jesus and Paul do seem to be referring specifically to this passage as a form of universal ethic. I will have to do more study on this usage, but you may have something there. Although, one could still argue that the specificity of male female relations is simply coincidental and influenced not by the overarching point of the ethic in question but rather a societal norm. After all it seems quite obvious that even Paul does not have the concept of a monogamous committed homosexual union when he is writing his piece on sexual mores.

    In regards to the authority of Christ, let me first say that I am not offended in any way by the question. I would have to say that I consider myself a Christian due to the fact the much of my experience with God has been through Christian mediums. That said I am far from an exclusivist. I am a huge fan of Borg and find his understanding of the symbolism of Christ’s divinity quite appealing. As far as the Bible, I do see it as part of a supreme collection of books which are inspired wisdom due to direct interaction with God. In that sense, it is not simply just another book to me. However, I certainly would not elevate it to the position of ultimate wisdom, in as much as the wisdom literature of other faith traditions would not be its equal.

    In regards to rhetoric and the Bible, I feel as though you are still missing my point. I was not suggesting that in every area the Bible serves only to ratchet up the rhetoric, but rather in this one discussion it does so. My position is simply that, until one can prove the value of the Bible in this specific discussion, it only serves to ratchet up the rhetoric of the debate. The reason being that many of the passages of the Bible that have been used in this debate carry quite negative undertones due to past uses.

    In regards to “loving the sinner” I don’t believe that your example is valid. Simply because your sister was the victim does not mean that you have to judge her victimizer in order to show your sister love. Practically, could you not show her love by how you responded to her and not her husband. Similarly could you not show your brother-in-law love simply by being accepting and caring. I understand the position you are putting forth, but couldn’t you rely on God’s sovereignty to bring about whatever change was needed in your brother in law. I am sorry that you think my definition of love is too hazy, but I feel as though the direction you are going is too cold. I may be naive but I feel as though the truest kind of love is that which is unassuming.

    All of this discussion, however, presupposes that homosexuality is a sin. I do not believe that this is the case. Perhaps we should discuss each others definition of sin as a next step. This seems to me to be a logical move should you want to continue this discussion. Although this again may be a bit difficult seeing our difference of perspective on the authority of scripture.

    I appreciate your perspective as it has been useful to me as I think through this very touchy issue.
    Jeremy

    Reply

  14. Jeremy:

    I’m still not buying your political reading of Genesis 1. You’re quite right that politics and theology (or throne and altar) were entwined in the ancient world. In fact, they are still entwined in many places in the modern world. America is exceptional for institutionally separating church and state without also eradicating religious influences on government. At any rate, what “political” point does Genesis 1 make? And given that Jews would have been the primary readers of Genesis 1, rather than pagans, why do you think the author of Genesis was pitching his argument at pagans rather than Jews? Would pagans really be interested in the overall narrative of Genesis, which is the election of Abraham and his descendants as God’s covenant people, together with their survival of threats to that election? I really am struggling with your argument here.

    You wrote, “Although, one could still argue that the specificity of male female relations is simply coincidental and influenced not by the overarching point of the ethic in question but rather a societal norm.” This could mean any number of things. If you mean simply that various cultures differ on the division of labor between men and women, I’m with you. If you’re implying that sex per se is socially constructed, I’m against you. There are socially constructed elements of gender. But sex itself is a biological given. That is why all cultures, however they vary in the division of labor between men and women, nonetheless have a division of labor.

    You wrote: “After all it seems quite obvious that even Paul does not have the concept of a monogamous committed homosexual union when he is writing his piece on sexual mores.” Of course he doesn’t! Because you (or others on this site) have suggested that ancient culture did not have a concept of homosexuality. Which seems to imply that homosexuality is a modern social construct. Which seems to further imply that it’s not a biological given. Regardless of these seeming implications, your point is an argument from silence, and I can do lots of fun things with those. Paul, for example, does not have the concept of a monogamous committed incestuous union when he is writing his piece on sexual mores. Ergo, incest is okay? Or, Paul does not have the concept of a monogamous committed pederastic union when he is writing his piece on sexual mores. Ergo, pederasty is okay?

    My reductios aside, the problem with an argument from silence is that it could go the other way too. And more plausibly, in my opinion. Since Paul condemns the homosexual act, while being silent on monogamous homosexual union, it stands to reason that he would condemn monogamous homosexual union if he knew about it precisely because he condemned the homosexual act.

    I haven’t missed your point on rhetorical ratcheting up. You’ve clarified it nicely, however, by saying that only in the case of same-sex marriage does citing the Bible as an authority ratchet up the rhetoric. That seems pretty arbitrary to me, however. Why this case and this case alone?

    Regarding the situation with my sister and brother-in-law, I in fact did rely on God to sovereignly change my brother-in-law’s heart, mind, and behavior, which he in fact did. My point would be that one of the ways God sovereignly did this was by my loving the sinner and hating the sin, i.e., accepting my brother-in-law with all his faults but nevertheless calling him on his actions.

    Thanks for your clarification of your faith stance! I was under the mistaken impression that the Theophiliacs were all refugees from the AG who had found shelter in the churches of the Great Tradition. Arguing with the Orthodox and the Catholic involves a set of presuppositions and authorities that don’t apply in your case. Your elevation of reason and experience over Bible and tradition as sources of authority is more symptomatic of the choices made by Protestant liberalism. Different presuppositions and authorities have to be cited in that case.

    I’ll keep that in mind as we continue to dialogue.

    George

    Reply

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